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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Jews, Judaism and “The Big Bang Theory”


I was not an initial devotee of “The Big Bang Theory.” But at some point—probably around year 4 or so--, Sarrae turned me on to the show and I will be one of those who will mourn its finale, which we will only get to watch this weekend, as we will be at the theater when it is telecast. Not quite as nerdy or as brilliant as the core cast of the 4 men, nonetheless I identified with their nerdiness: I may have had a little more athletic skills than they do, but back in high school, I enjoyed the sciences (except for biology) and aside from my Jewish activities, such as USY, I was only a member of the chess club.


It was easy to conclude that the actors who played Howard and Stuart were both Jewish—Simon Helberg and Kevin Sussman, respectively-- but found it strange that the most Jewishly committed member of the cast, Mayim Bialik, played such a bland vaguely Protestant character. Moreover, only this week did I discover that Catholic Bernadette was played by Melissa Rauch, also a MOT as was Raj’s father, the Indian gynecologist. Brian George was born in Jerusalem to Indian Jews who had migrated from Bombay!


The Wolowitz house had Hanukkah menorahs galore—the episode in which they eat all the defrosted food that had been stored in the freezer by Howard’s mother shows all of them alit. There was a mezuzah on the front door and Jewish pictures scattered through the house. And yet, the Wolowitz household was only culturally Jewish: aside from the Jewish objects, there were occasional Jewish words, Jewish foods—all the brisket that was consumed--, some kibbbitzing by Howard about the fate of Jews as well as some passing mention of Hebrew School and Bar Mitzvah.  There seems to have been no Jewish observances other than lighting Sabbath candles, which preceded the watching of “Wheel of Fortune.” (Oh, yes, Howard did recite the blessing over bread, ‘Hamotzi,” when he returned from space.) I found it odd that the death of Carol Ann Susi, the unseen actress who played Mrs. Wolowitz, didn’t introduce the viewing public to shivah. Instead she is cremated, and the airline loses her urn. And the show elided over the issue of how Howard and Bernadette’s children were to be raised: was Hanukkah to be celebrated; how about a Passover seder? Sadly, lost opportunities to explore a little more of Jewish life, particularly given the Jewish roots of some of the actors as well as of the co-producer and writer Eric Kaplan.


When Sarrae and I finally finish with season 2 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” (on which I will yet comment)—, it will be time to turn to a very Jewish series, the Israeli produced, “Shtisel.”


Shabbat shalom.


P.S. This week the annual Eurovision musical contest is being staged in Tel Aviv. (Last year’s winner was from Israel, so the host nation in the year following is the home country of the winner.) The first round of semi-finals took place on Tuesday. The second round will be on Thursday and the finals, will be aired on Saturday night in Israel. At the moment, access to the first round can be found on Swedish tv—no US broadcaster picked it up this year--:






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Speeding Up Recharging: An Israeli Breakthrough



All-electric cars are gaining in popularity. But they all have a fatal flaw: their batteries take a long time to recharge. The best of them can go 300 miles on a single charge. But recharging often requires several hours; a far cry from a quick stop at the gas station to refuel.


An Israeli company, StoreDot has developed a new battery that promises to overcome that hurdle. Traditional batteries use lithium and graphite. The Israeli battery replaces the graphite with a mix of metalloids including silicon and proprietary organic compounds synthesized in the company’s labs. The changes not only speed up charging time by a huge factor—it claims its Flash Battery will fully recharge within 5 minutes—but also increases safety. As its CEO, Doron Meyersdorf noted, it was the heated graphite which caused batteries to explode in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and for several Tesla Model S cars to catch fire back in 2013. “It is a known problem,” he observed, “and the reason why all such batteries are charged slowly. And it’s also why our technology is garnering such interest.”


Meyersdorf understated the degree of “interest” in his company’s breakthrough. Last year it secured a $20 million investment from BP Ventures and EVE Energy, the latter a Chinese manufacturer of lithium batteries, which intends to manufacture the batteries in China. This comes on top of investments from German car giant Daimler AG and Japanese TDK Corporation.


The Israeli company has a staff of 105, all in Israel. According to its CEO, the aim is to raise several hundred million dollars more to develop its own battery manufacturing plant in the United States, its target date is sometime in 2022.


Currently, StoreDot is planning on starting with smaller batteries, for mobile devices, and hopes to have them marketed by the end of this year. It is surmised that a cell phone battery with its technology could charge within a minute. What the company learns from the engineering and supply-chain challenges of these first-generation devices will help the company as it moves forward toward the larger batteries required for electric cars. (A car battery has the equivalent of 5,000 to 7,000 cell phone batteries.)


Two more positives for the technology are: 1) it uses less cobalt, most of which is mined in the Congo, often using child labor and 2) its battery doesn’t degrade over time.






Payrush LaParshahah:

 A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Emor (Leviticus 23:23-24:23) is read this Saturday, May 18th.


24:10 There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between that half-Israelite and a certain Israelite. (11) The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses—now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan — (12) and he was placed in custody, until the decision of the Lord should be made clear to them. (13) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: (14) Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him…. (23) Moses spoke thus to the Israelites. And they took the blasphemer outside the camp pelted him with stones. The Israelites did as the Lord had commanded Moses.


What do we do with those people who don't quite fit in? Leviticus has presented us with the requirement to be holy, defined by many laws in many areas of our lives. What about a person who doesn't make the 'holiness' cut, who doesn't live up to all those high standards?


It's a critical question for parents, for educators, for community. A Midrash, found in our chapter which itself doesn't fit in very well at all, offers a horrifyingly harsh answer.


"And the son of an Israelite woman went out." Went out? From where? One Midrash provides the following back story. Attempting to pitch his tent amongst the tribesmen of his mother, he meets with resistance. "Your mother is from Dan, not your father. You don't belong here." Where does he belong, this son of an Egyptian man? Not in our backyard, apparently. He enters Moses' court, seeking a defender, perhaps a compassionate ear. But Moses’ legal decision endorses the exclusionary politics of the tribe of Dan. Angry, bitter, rejected, the man leaves, and curses the God whose people has no place for him.


The Torah's response to this action born of pain and rejection? Public stoning.


Nechama Leibowitz tries to justify it, writing: "Sometimes, the law causes individual hardship, and the victim feels unjustly treated. But it is the individual's duty to accept the hardship in the interest of the public good."


For me, that's hard to swallow, so I search for other voices, and find the following wonderfully subversive Midrash which picks up on the theme of treatment of the mamzer, the illegitimate child but presents a very different message.


""And the son of an Israelite woman went out"- This is related to the verse: 'And I sat and saw all of the oppressed...' (Kohellet 4): Daniel the tailor explains that these words are talking about the plight of the mamzer. 'Behold the tears of the oppressed'- if their fathers committed sins, why should it matter to these poor children? If their father had illicit relations- what did the child sin?


'and they have no one to comfort them' but only 'from the hands of their oppressors is power'- from the hand of the great Sanhedrin, that comes to them by the power of the Torah and distances them because it says 'A mamzer shall not come into the congregation of God'.


'And they have no one to comfort them'- God says- I will comfort them, for in this world, there is chaff among you, but in the future, Zecharia says "I saw the menorah, all gold" (Vayikra Rabba, 32:8).


The court is the source of the harsh judgment excluding the mamzer, as Moses’ court was. But here, this constitutes oppression, a wrong that God himself seeks to right, using the image of the Menorah which strangely enough, opens our chapter. The Menorah represents essence, pure light which can be shared by all Jews, regardless of how well they fit in. (Rabbi Avidan Freedman, “Leviticus 24: What Do You Do When You Don't Fit In?” Rabbi Freedman grew up in Montreal, Quebec. After high school, he spent two years studying in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion, received a BA from Yeshiva University, and an MA in Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School. He was ordained by Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and also received semichah –rabbinic ordination—from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate --. He taught for 3 years at SAR High School in Riverdale, after which he made Aliyah with his family in 2010. Since arriving in Israel, he has been teaching at the Hartman Institute’s boys’ high school, also serving as the school rabbi since 2016. In 2018, Rabbi Freedman was appointed Rabbi of the Hartman Institute’s gap year program, Hevruta. He is also active in numerous causes in Israel, most notably concerning moral limits on Israeli arms exports. His writing has been published in the Jewish Week, Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, NRG, Srugim,and Makor Rishon. He is also a frequent contributor to the English 929 learning site.)

Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779